PICKS OF THE SHOW: Once the stepchild of the auto show circuit, the Los Angeles Auto Show is now among the premier shows in the world. It splits prestige with New York's show, held in April, and serves as a prelude to the Detroit Auto Show in January.
This year in L.A., a bumper crop of new models are vying for attention. We sorted through the 30 world debuts and the 30 North American debuts to find the standouts. Here are our top five:
Mazda — the perennial builder of sharp, fun vehicles that few people buy — is out with another intriguing model, the CX-3 compact crossover. Consider it a Mazda 3 that doesn't mind camping. The CX-3 drivetrain is the same as in the 3 sedan and hatchback. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes about 150 horsepower, and all-wheel drive will be optional.
It looks great, and if it drives like the 3, it should be a terrific little runabout. On the heels of its popular CX-5 crossover, this little sport ute could prove a breakout vehicle for Mazda. The compact crossover segment's popularity is exploding, and Mazda has a head start on many other automakers planning similar models.
It's also relatively cheap: Expect to pay between $18,000 and $25,000 when the CX-3 begins selling next summer.
Shelby GT350 Mustang
This beautiful beast is just more evidence that, despite all the blather about fuel economy, we're entering a new golden age of muscle cars. Dodge has the 707-horsepower Challenger and Charger Hellcat editions, and Chevy the Camaro ZL1 and Z/28. Now Ford is fighting back with the Shelby GT350 Mustang, the first of several expected go-faster variants of its sixth-generation pony car.
The 2015 Shelby version starts with the robust chassis from the all-new Mustang. It piles on a new, high-revving 5.2-liter V-8 engine. Naturally aspirated, it pumps out "more than" 500 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. The only available gearbox is a six-speed stick shift.
As Ford added more power, it subtracted weight — the kind of math we love. The car slims down with a carbon fiber grille opening, aluminum front fenders, Brembo brakes and Recaro seats. The body gets the standard Shelby treatment, with bolt-on scoops and wings and vents that send a clear message to the Camaro driver at the stoplight: Don't even think about it.
The entire Mercedes lineup
By 2020, Mercedes-Benz plans to sell more than 30 models, 11 of which will be new. This means every auto show in the foreseeable future will be a big one for Benz.
Among half a dozen debuts in L.A., the automaker brought the Mercedes-Maybach S600, with a V-12 engine and an extra 8.1 inches of length for more legroom. (The standard S-class sedan isn't exactly cramped.)
This 523-horsepower tank offers Vladimir Putin levels of comfort and amenities: heated, cooled, massaging seats that recline and include leg rests, leather, wood and chrome everywhere, individual climate control and hand-crafted, silver-plated champagne flutes. Budget at least $200,000.
Then there's the other new subdivision, Mercedes-AMG. It's showing the gorgeous AMG GT sports car powered by a 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8, paired with a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox. The two-seater will fetch $110,000 to $150,000. We drove it last week; it's worth that money, if you've got it.
Jaguar's expanding F-Type family
It started with a trio of lusty F-Type convertibles in 2013. A year later we got the coupe variants, which somehow managed to trump the roadster's carnality. Now Jaguar is broadening the car's appeal, adding all-wheel drive and a manual transmission to the mix.
The AWD system will be standard on the F-Type R and optional on the mid-level V-6 S. The manual gearbox will be available on the base V-6 and the mid-level V-6 S models. The six-speed unit replaces the eight-speed automatic, and does so at a $1,500 discount. It's the same manual transmission that Jaguar will use on its upcoming XE compact sedan.
These additions mean that with a single car, Jaguar can cover a wide swath of the sports car market. The base F-Type Coupe kicks things off for about $64,000 and includes the manual transmission and a 340-horsepower supercharged V-6. At the top of the range — and hitting dealers in the spring — will be the R Convertible. For about $105,000, it comes with a 550-horsepower supercharged V-8.
All this has put Jaguar, once on the brink of extinction, back in the company of Porsche, Mercedes and Aston Martin. And with the brand's rich history, it seems like a rightful place.
Audi's Prologue concept
How do you say "no-brainer" in German? This slick silver coupe is stealing the L.A. show, and it's not even confirmed for production. If it is, it'll be called the A9 and will land in 2017 or 2018.
Audi trotted out the concept to show off new design language it plans to incorporate throughout its lineup. We'll first see the A8, expected to begin selling in 2017, then the A6 and A7 siblings shortly after that.
The coupe is the work of Audi's new design chief, Marc Lichte, who's been at his post only since February. But in that short time, Lichte and his team have redefined what the next generation of Audis will look like. The interior is just as impressive, with several touch screens in the dashboard and a multilayer screen in the instrument panel that looks three-dimensional. It's a bold move by an automaker that says its customers expect nothing less.
Compiled by The Times' automotive staff.